Tumor cell membrane-targeting cationic antimicrobial

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Cell. Mol. Life Sci. DOI 10.1007/s00018-017-2604-z

Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences


Tumor cell membrane‑targeting cationic antimicrobial peptides: novel insights into mechanisms of action and therapeutic prospects Amy A. Baxter1   · Fung T. Lay1   · Ivan K. H. Poon1   · Marc Kvansakul1   · Mark D. Hulett1   

Received: 26 May 2017 / Revised: 18 July 2017 / Accepted: 28 July 2017 © Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Abstract  There is an ongoing need for effective and targeted cancer treatments that can overcome the detrimental side effects presented by current treatment options. One class of novel anticancer molecules with therapeutic potential currently under investigation are cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAPs). CAPs are small innate immunity peptides found ubiquitously throughout nature that are typically membrane-active against a wide range of pathogenic microbes. A number of CAPs can also target mammalian cells and often display selective activity towards tumor cells, making them attractive candidates as novel anticancer agents warranting further investigation. This current and comprehensive review describes key examples of naturally occurring membrane-targeting CAPs and their modified derivatives that have demonstrated anticancer activity, across multiple species of origin and structural subfamilies. In addition, we address recent advances made in the field and the ongoing challenges faced in translating experimental findings into clinically relevant treatments. Keywords  Cationic antimicrobial peptide · Cancer · Membrane · Phospholipid

* Amy A. Baxter [email protected] 1

Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC 3086, Australia

Structural and functional properties of membrane‑targeting cationic antimicrobial peptides It is widely understood that, although chemotherapy and radiotherapy remain the most common non-surgical cancer treatment options, they present major drawbacks. These include adverse side effects such as cardiotoxicity and neurotoxicity due to low tumor cell-specificity [1] and multidrug resistance, resulting in reduced chemotherapeutic drug efficacy [2]. Whilst the development of targeted therapy options such as immunotherapy show significant promise with demonstrated improved outcomes, they remain expensive and are often not applicable to all cancers. Due to advances in available treatment options and increased awareness leading to earlier detection, the 5-year survival rate across all cancers in Australia reached 66% by 2010, a 19% increase since the 1980s [3]. Although significant, this figure translates to one third of all diagnoses leading to death within 5 years and reflects an urgent and ongoing need for more effective, targeted cancer treatments. A novel family of anticancer molecules that has attracted significant and increasing interest over the past decade is the cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAPs) [4, 5]. CAPs are small (typically 

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